Review of “Snakes in Suits”
February 23, 2010 19 Comments
A few days ago I unexpectedly came across a book that I believe may be one of the most important books I’ve read—Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work, by Paul Babiak and Robert D. Hale (2006).
This is not your standard self-help book that panders to readers needing yet another pop-psychology fix. It is a serious but readable treatise on how the psycho-dynamics of predatory behavior manifests in the workplace, the damage that results when this happens, and how co-workers and superiors can and must respond with greater wisdom.
Early chapters describe in broad terms the profile of the psychopath and explain that psychopaths should not be confused with the criminally insane. The traits and behaviors are so subtle that it can be very difficult to discern the psychopaths among us, including those at work.
The authors go on to describe their discovery of the unique ways in which psychopaths behave on their paths to greater influence in organizations. The indicators are so subtle that you will probably think of certain people and wonder if they aren’t psychopaths after all. You may even wonder if you’re a psychopath! But Babiak and Hare are very careful to identify the distinct ways that psychopaths differ from people with normal emotional challenges, ego-needs, and even narcissistic tendencies. This is one of the most clarifying things about their research.
Stereotypical psychopaths who have literally killed without remorse differ from those “snakes in suits” who manifest certain psychopathic traits more than other psychopathic traits. Psychopaths in the workplace practice highly-tuned deception and manipulation whose complicated behavior is revealed with remarkable clarity in this book. And the authors virtually shout a warning to those responsible for the productivity, morale, and culture of their organizations.
The psychopaths spoken of by Babiak and Hare use people for their own aggrandizement. These people often permit this without knowledge of what is happening, until it’s too late and they are discarded. These are the psychopath’s pawns.
Meanwhile, others make excuses for the psychopath, clearing the way for further abuse of power with destructive emotional consequences. These are the psychopath’s unwitting patrons.
The psychopath’s success depends on egregious manipulation disguised by an elaborate fictional persona he adopts to induce trust, create feelings of intimacy, and sustain the perception of unusual expertise. The the authors call this “impression maintenance,” which continues through each of the distinct phases of psychopathic behavior towards individuals: (1) assessment, (2) manipulation, (3) abandonment, and (4) ascension.
It would have been very beneficial to have learned the lessons of Snakes in Suits when I began my professional life some twenty years ago. In countless associations in the academy, the arena of public discourse, the marketplace, and even religious organizations, I’m sure I’ve encountered the occasional psychopath—sometimes a very clever and skilled psychopath, indeed.
It’s never too late to learn, or to warn others. In my personal and professional relationships—especially those that involve mentoring future leaders—I’ll be recommending this book.
Related Reading (discovered after writing the above review):
- Robert Hare’s Website on the Study of Psychopathy
- Paul Babiak Website
- Excerpt from Chapter 1 of Snakes in Suits
- TimesOnline Review of Snakes in Suits
- Business 2 Business Review of Snakes in Suits
- Review by Thom Hartman
- Review in NewScientist of Snakes in Suits, by Laura Spinney
- Review at Health Care Renewal, with emphasis on abuse in the field of health care
- Review by The Star Phoenix, Saskatoon
- Book Description from “Psychopath Research”